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RNC Chair On State Of The Union


So it made sense that President Trump would use his first State of the Union address to reach out beyond his base. And yes, that meant trying to say things that might be appealing to Democrats, but it also meant trying to bridge the divides within his own party. So how did he do on that front? We're going to ask Ronna Romney McDaniel. She is the chair of the Republican National Committee, and she joins us on the line. Thanks so much for being with us this morning.

RONNA ROMNEY MCDANIEL: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: Was this the unifying speech the White House advertised it would be?

MCDANIEL: I think it was a unifying speech. I think the president came out extending his hand to Democrats, saying let's work together. This is a time where we can do good things for the American people. And let's put aside our differences and focus on the things where we do agree, things like infrastructure. Let's make an immigration deal. And I thought his tone was perfect. And I thought it was an excellent speech. And he's gotten rave reviews.

MARTIN: So let's talk about immigration because it's far from a done deal at this point. The president did address it. And he said that - and he said it again in the address - that he wants a path to citizenship for 1.8 million people who would qualify for DACA protections. Is that something you believe a majority of Republicans can support?

MCDANIEL: I think if it's in combination with border security, the ending of chain migration and the visa lottery system, that is something. It's called compromise. He also noted that this is three times more of the DACA - or the DREAMers than President Obama had given a path to citizenship for. So there is compromise there. And I think Republicans recognize that we need Democrats to pass this.

MARTIN: But you don't have everybody in the Republican caucus. I mean, the Freedom Caucus members don't like this one bit.

MCDANIEL: There's going to have to be some Democrats coming over and supporting as well. And...

MARTIN: Because you don't assume they'll come onboard? You need the Democrats to replace them?

MCDANIEL: I'm not assuming that. I think we can get them there. But we're going to need Democrats absolutely in the Senate. We only have 51 votes in the Senate. You're going to need nine Democrats to pass anything comprehensive with immigration. I'm assuming we could get some Democrats in the House. What we've seen so far is they haven't come across the aisle to work with this president.

But I think this proposal is very reasonable. I think it's something that, if the president had put it out at the beginning of the year last year, they would have jumped at it. And so it's going to be interesting to see how they negotiate on this because, as far as I'm concerned, I can't imagine why they wouldn't take this opportunity to protect these DREAMers, something that they have campaigned on.

MARTIN: It's also an election year, though. Midterms are coming up. And the people are going to be trying to cater to their base to get their own votes. We heard from conservative talk show radio host Chris Buskirk this morning. He said the president's proposal is over-the-top. Is there concern that this could cause the president's base to feel as if he has not followed through on campaign promises?

MCDANIEL: I don't think so because he was very clear that it has to be in conjunction with increased border security, the end of chain migration and the diversity lottery. So there's give for everyone. That's recognized in the president's compromise. I think his base knows he has to work with Democrats to get this passed. And so it's going to be interesting with the Democrats because I do think the 2018 Democrat who ran on protecting the DREAMers are going to be more inclined to work with the president. But those 2020 Democrats running for president already are going to be the ones who are going to be less inclined to make a deal.

MARTIN: Before I let you go, I want to ask you about Steve Wynn. He's the former finance chairman of the RNC, dismissed from that job after allegations of sexual abuse surfaced. Wynn has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars at least to Republican candidates and organizations over the year. Should that money be returned?

MCDANIEL: Well, this has been such a troubling time. And the allegations are incredibly troubling, troubling enough that within 24 hours, I had accepted his resignation as finance chairman. We took swift action.

MARTIN: To remove him from that post. We only have seconds left. Do you think that money should go back?

MCDANIEL: Well, there's going to be an investigation. If wrongdoing is found, absolutely that money will go back.

MARTIN: Although Harvey Weinstein, the Democrats - Republicans accused Democrats of not returning money from Harvey Weinstein immediately.

MCDANIEL: Well, Harvey Weinstein admitted wrongdoing out of the gate. He went into rehab. He had named accusers. And so I think the circumstances are different in all of these cases, and we need to be judicious and look at that.

MARTIN: Ronna Romney McDaniel, chair of the RNC. Thanks for your time this morning.

MCDANIEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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